When I joined the Army had many preconceived notions as to what it would be like to speak with veterans of the war in Viet Nam. Of course, once I actually spent some time with these men it was much more different than I thought it would be on several levels. The image I had been fed all my life of the strung out and jittery dead- end soldiers who lived with deep regret over that war was soon replaced with the reality of professional and dedicated men who went to do what they were ordered to do and did it as well as they could.
Some of what I heard might never be told because I am certain they did not want it to be repeated. Some people might not understand. There was a lot of fire and a lot of darkness and there were very long days and even longer nights. It was one of the longest and most futile wars we, as a country, visited upon our military men and women.
The last American general who truly understood the concept of war was Sherman. When the War Of Northern Aggression was declared against the Confederacy it was Sherman who warned Lincoln that the war would be a long war and it would take a standing army of at least nine hundred thousand men to win it. Lincoln’s military advisors laughed at Sherman and he was exiled away from the war. When it became clear those who thought the war would be over with few causalities and in a couple of months were terribly, horribly, wrong, Sherman was brought back. The war dragged out for over four years. In the end, Sherman marched through Georgia and created a sixty mile wide path of death, destruction, and depravation. Those who opposed him were killed. Those who submitted to him were beholding to him for their very lives.
This was, and it still is, the very essence of how to conquer a people using force.
In World War Two, Patton understood this very well but there were now rules in affect that would limit the amount of destruction that might be created. It was even worse in Korea and it was downright terrible in Nam. Our recent military actions in the Middle East were very little but American foreign policy with no thought into consequence and action without regard to cost.
To Lincoln, Sherman, Patton, and the men and women in uniform, war was personal. It was worn like a second skin. The heroics of our military personnel are clearly visible from a level that transcends ordinary human endeavor. The scared blood that ran through the veins of the first man to fire a musket at the British pumps through the hearts of those who fight, kill, and die in Afghanistan. The blood was spilled in the jungles. And it has never been this blood that has failed us and it never will fail us.
The leaders who misuse our military and those who misunderstand history will be revealed in the future as stumbling, ignorant politicians whose inactions or actions led to death and desecration of those who serve.
This day, of all days, let us remember that those in sit in Washington do not reflect the values held by those who fight in uniform. Honor, courage, duty, and commitment to liberty are what these people think their lives are worth trading for.
Remember, on this day, and every day you are able to walk as a free person, that those who believe this, those who live it, and those you owe for it.
They are your true leaders for they have shown the way since that first musket was fired and they will lead until the last shot echoes into eternity.